Same-Sex Domestic Violence and the Law: Claiming a Domestic Sphere and Risking Negative Stereotypes

26 Pages Posted: 1 Nov 2006 Last revised: 25 Jul 2010

See all articles by Nancy J. Knauer

Nancy J. Knauer

Temple University - James E. Beasley School of Law

Date Written: July 23, 2010


Same-sex domestic violence is a difficult topic. The LGBT communities have been reluctant to discuss same-sex domestic violence for fear of validating negative stereotypes and detracting from the push for legal recognition of such relationships. The relative silence on this issue continues despite the fact that individuals in same-sex relationships are more likely to be abused by their partners than beaten in an act of anti-gay violence. and despite legislative efforts to restrict domestic violence laws to cover only opposite-sex couples.

The political downside of discussing same-sex domestic violence is obvious. Anti-gay organizations invoke same-sex domestic violence to bolster their assertions that homosexuality is a dangerous lifestyle and that same-sex relationships are unhealthy, unstable, and violent. Thus, the acknowledgement of such violence can destabilize the emerging positive image of same-sex relationships promoted in connection with the on-going legal struggle for equal marriage rights.

Same-sex domestic violence also challenges our highly gendered (and heteronormative) understanding of domestic violence because it cannot be explained by reference to gender difference, the historical subjugation of women, or the private nature of family violence. To claim domestic violence protections, lesbian and gay advocates must first argue for something that feminists have identified as a situs of oppression - a private sphere of family life.

Part I outlines the statistics on same-sex domestic violence and discusses how such violence threatens the emerging positive model of same-sex relationships, as well as the prevailing gendered (and heteronormative) paradigm of domestic violence. Part II summarizes the application of domestic violence protections to same-sex relationships and the efforts of state legislators to restrict such protections to opposite-sex couples. Part III concludes that even where domestic violence protections include same-sex couples, there remain serious obstacles, such as internalized homophobia and perceived homophobia on the part of the police, the judiciary, social service workers, and even domestic violence advocates.

Keywords: domestic violence, same-sex domestic violence, intimate partner violence, LGBT, gay, lesbian, initmate violence, domestic abuse, culture war, lesbian stereotypes, traditional values, anti-gay stereotypes, feminism, protection from abuse orders

JEL Classification: I18, J12, J71, J78, K14

Suggested Citation

Knauer, Nancy J., Same-Sex Domestic Violence and the Law: Claiming a Domestic Sphere and Risking Negative Stereotypes (July 23, 2010). Temple Political & Civil Rights Law Review, Vol. 8, 1999, Available at SSRN:

Nancy J. Knauer (Contact Author)

Temple University - James E. Beasley School of Law ( email )

1719 N. Broad Street
Philadelphia, PA 19122
United States
215-204-1688 (Phone)
215-204-1185 (Fax)

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